Sharks

Sharks' Kevin Labanc focused on future as team continues turnaround

Sharks' Kevin Labanc focused on future as team continues turnaround

SAN JOSE - Like with just about every other player on the Sharks, Kevin Labanc's game is doing an about-face after a rocky start to the 2019-20 season. 

But even with two goals scored in the last two games, there's still another level that Labanc thinks his game can get to. And the best way for him to do that is to keep his focus on the future.

"I think my game's found itself a little bit," Labanc told NBC Sports California. "Last game, I think I definitely could've played better. But it's a learning curve. You just have to bring it every single game and worry about this upcoming game."

That's a pretty on-brand self-assessment from the 23-year-old winger. He isn't one to make excuses or brush off when he doesn't well. He even made fun of himself last year when asked why he's regularly the player that bench boss Peter DeBoer sends to the penalty box to serve the too-many-men penalty. 

But Labanc also isn't one to dwell on his mishaps for too long, which is an important quality for one of the young players San Jose is leaning on to make a jump this season and take on more responsibility. 

"You want to stay in the moment as much as you can in this business," Labanc continued. "If you start worrying about how good or bad you were the game before, it won't help your situation in the present. I'm just focused on tonight, making sure I go out there and do my job and that I can be good on all ends of the rink."

Doing a good job on both ends of the ice is an aspect of Labanc's game that DeBoer wants to see more of. While getting on the scoreboard is important, there are other areas that need to follow suit.

"For me, I measure his game on a lot more than just the production, but obviously that is something that we are counting on," the head coach explained. "I talked to him -- two games ago I thought he was our best player on the ice, in Chicago. Last game, I know he scored but he and I talked (because) I didn't think he had a great game."

This isn't to say DeBoer is completely dissatisfied with where Labanc's game is at right at this early point in the season. "I think, like all goal-scorers, he's a little streaky," DeBoer said. "He's a young guy. He came (into camp) in great shape, I think he's moving well. And he's a product a little bit of our start as a team."

[RELATED: Sharks historically far more successful when scoring first]

For the Sharks as a whole, putting that rough start to the season in the rearview mirror is important with the tough competition they have coming up on their schedule. San Jose closes out a three-game homestand by hosting the Carolina Hurricanes and the Buffalo Sabres -- two squads who are dominating the Eastern Conference at this early point in the season. As happy as San Jose might be with how they played over their last couple of games, the focus has to remain on what's ahead of them.

"We're all feeling really good, but it's still a long season though and there are just so many games," Labanc said. "You can't worry about your past success. You have to worry about your future."

Sharks' Evander Kane pushes growth of hockey at Oakland middle school

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Sharks' Evander Kane pushes growth of hockey at Oakland middle school

OAKLAND -- In a place like the greater Bay Area where so many sports reign supreme and twigs and pucks aren't easy to come by, hockey isn't usually the first sport a middle schooler will gravitate toward.

When Evander Kane asked a room full of students at Westlake Middle School in Oakland how many of them had ever played ice hockey, not too many hands were raised. 

But Kim Davis, NHL Executive VP of Social Impact, Growth Initiatives, and Legislative Affairs, believes that can change. And after an afternoon when students played a little pick-up hockey on the school blacktop with Kane himself, she told NBC Sports California that she sees potential to grow the game.

"Just listening to the kids inside being asked 'Who's your favorite player? Who's your favorite team?' Tomorrow, they'll have answers to that because of what happened here today," Davis said Monday afternoon as a gaggle of middle-schoolers on the inflatable-barricaded rink in front of her cheered as one scored a goal. 

That's a positive outcome in Davis' line of work, as the "Hockey Is For Everyone" initiative works to make the sport accessible to kids no matter their race, religion or socioeconomic background. Since being placed in her current role with the league, Davis has been tasked with answering critics when it comes to making hockey more welcoming to all players and their fans. 

So even at a school where picking up a basketball is more feasible, Davis wants pick-up hockey to be an option. That starts with equipping students with a couple of hockey sticks and some goal nets -- no expensive equipment required.

"At the league, we're constantly thinking of ways in which we can innovate around ball and street," she said when talking about the access schools have to hockey equipment, even if it's just a couple of sticks. "I often talk about exposure in urban centers, particularly within two dynamics -- one is exposure, and the other is access."

That exposure comes from having a player to look up to, and it doesn't hurt that the San Jose Sharks' "Hockey Is For Everyone" ambassador is Kane. The students who participated in Monday's pick-up game didn't just gain a better understanding of hockey over the afternoon, but also clearly enjoyed interacting with Kane.

"I met Evander at an ESPN event this summer, and we had a natural connection," Davis said. "I really think he's coming into his own in terms of him being able to come into communities and be a relatable figure. And I really think that representation counts."

Bringing hockey to the rest of the Bay Area doesn't stop with this one venture to Westlake Middle School, either. Davis' goal is to make hockey accessible all year long in all corners of the country.

[RELATED: Thornton discusses importance of fitness in HEADSTRONG]

"We're testing in Boston, this new innovation around 'hoop net' where we take a basketball court and we're able to put a hockey net between two basketball courts and kids can have pickup games on their own," Davis said. "It's year-round. Just having kids know that there's another sport available to them.

"I really think that's the bottom line."

Sharks have Martin Jones to thank for keeping winning streak alive

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USATSI

Sharks have Martin Jones to thank for keeping winning streak alive

SAN JOSE -- The SAP Center crowd was on the edge of its seats during overtime play as Brent Burns went to the box for tripping and the Sharks went on the penalty kill. 

But goaltender Martin Jones was there to keep the game moving right along, making stop after stop against the Red Wings and giving San Jose the boost it needed to get to the shootout and tally its sixth straight victory.

On a night when the Sharks weren't at their best, Jones was -- as head coach Peter DeBoer aptly put it -- San Jose's "best player." And this certainly wasn't the first time this month that he came up with some big saves at a very big moment.

Without Jones playing at the level he has been over the last few contests, the Sharks might not finally be climbing out of their early-season hole.

"When he can steal games like that, it's huge for us," Kevin Labanc said. "He had an unbelievable game today and that's why he's the goalie that he is. We have a lot of faith in him and he's winning us games right now."

Jones' work on the penalty kill was just one highlight of his performance from Saturday night. He was steady as Detroit's offense picked up steam and used its speed to wedge into San Jose's zone. Jones was quick to save some of the Red Wings' best shots, most notably a Brandon Perlini attempt that he batted out of the crease with his outstretched right leg. He then topped it off by completely stymying Detroit's top scorers in the shootout.

"A big reason we got the two points was him tonight," captain Logan Couture said of Jones. "He made massive saves. You think of that penalty kill, that save in the second there which was huge, big saves in the third that he made. He's playing great. And then the shootout -- he's been unbelievable in the shootout so far."

Considering the rough start Jones had this season, one wonders if he has been doing something different recently in his preparation for games. But when asked postgame why he's been more successful lately, the netminder -- who is typically a pretty cool customer -- couldn't pinpoint where his current confidence is coming from.

"I have to play the game," Jones said. "I can't rely on making a big save early, sometimes that's just the way the game unfolds. I get confidence from practicing hard and making sure I'm focused on the details."

Granted, Jones' numbers on the season as a whole still aren't great. He's 8-7-1 through 16 starts and currently possesses an .889 save percentage. Even over the course fo San Jose's current six-game winning streak, he's sitting on an .891 save percentage. While the team in front of Jones obviously is scoring enough goals to win games and piggyback on his big saves, it still needs to give him a little more help.

"I still think we can be tighter and better defensively," Couture critiqued. "Too many grade-As in our slot and breakaways. So we'll tighten up on that."

[RELATED: What we learned as Sharks beat Red Wings in shootout]

But the Sharks aren't going to scoff at another win, especially if it comes at the hands of a big performance from their goalie.

"When you're putting together a winning streak, you're going to have to win all kinds of different ways," DeBoer said. "You're going to put some really solid games together, and then you're going to win some like this where you've got a couple of guys with big performances."

In this case, Jones' performance is what kept the winning streak alive.